It's taken a while, but Toni Elias finally has a ride. The Gresini team made the long-awaited announcement today of their rider line-up for 2010, which features the long-anticipated signing of Toni Elias, alongside the little-known Russian rider Vladimir Ivanov. The two men are to campaign Moriwaki's MD600 Moto2 bikes in the inaugural Moto2 championship in 2010.
Elias' journey to a contract with Gresini has been a long one. It was clear early on in 2009 that the chances of Elias staying with Gresini in MotoGP were fairly slim after Fausto Gresini signed Marco Simoncelli for 2010, then announced that he needed two Italian riders to satisfy his sponsor, Italian snack manufacturer San Carlo. After various rumors and machinations to try and stay in MotoGP, the Spaniard finally conceded that he would have to spend 2010 racing in Moto2, with a return to Gresini looking increasingly inevitable as time passed.
The signing of Elias did not come as much of a surprise. The Spaniard has already tested the Gresini Moriwaki a couple of times, setting the fastest time at the Valencia tests after the final MotoGP round of the year. However, given the disparity in engine configurations being used in the tests - everything from full-fat World Supersport-spec lumps to HRC Superstock kitted CBR engines - it is hard to assess just how much weight to put on the reported times. Elias was certainly quick, though, and looked extremely comfortable. The only complaint he had of the Moriwaki was that it was far too slow, the one factor that none of the teams will be able to influence.
Though Elias had long been linked to Gresini, the announcement was not quite a foregone conclusion. Doubts have been raised over the financial viability of Gresini's Moto2 project, given the fact that the Italian team has both Moto2 and MotoGP teams to pay for. It was half expected that today's announcement would not be of Elias' signing, but instead of Gresini's withdrawal from the class.
The savior of the project may well be Elias' teammate Vladimir Ivanov. The Russian rider has led a peripatetic existence racing in a number of Supersport championships over the past few years, scoring reasonable successes in the German IDM and Italian CIV championships, but finishing the 2006 World Supersport championship without scoring any points at all. There is reason to believe that, like so many riders in Moto2, his contract has come about as the result of making a financial contribution to the team.
Elias may now be settled in the Gresini Moto2 team, his troubles may not be over yet. Prior to signing for Gresini, Elias had allegedly signed a pre-contract with Sito Pons' team to ride the Kalex Moto2 machine, but had pulled out after Pons reportedly failed to guarantee Elias' salary. Legal proceedings in this question are said to still be ongoing.